Sony DR-BTN200 and Bluetooth audio.

Recently I had a chance to spend some time with a Bluetooth audio headset from Sony. The model number of these are DR-BTN200. I’ve been meaning to write a review on these for over a couple months now. Now that I have had some exposure with these on the go, I’m ready to discuss them.

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First I’d like to say I was and still am not a fan of Bluetooth technology for Audio. I was always under the impression that it is slow and susceptible to interference. And after being exposed to these headphones, and other Bluetooth devices in the past my impressions were 100% spot on and I stick to my original assessment of the technology.

My first exposure to Bluetooth tech was in the form of those terribly tacky phone headsets some people love to wear, you know who you are. The guy in a suit on the train yapping during the afternoon commute… but I degress. Bluetooth 1.0, in it’s day was slow and very interference prone. Troublesome to pair and even a bigger pain to maintain said pairing.

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Then came the PS3 with their Bluetooth controller technology. I’m a gamer, I have been for a long time. When I first picked up the PS3 controller and tried to play NHL hockey I noticed a slight, very minute lag or delay between input and reaction time. This was unacceptable to me, and I never played another video game on the PS3 again. It sat there collecting dust.

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Then I got a hand me down Bluetooth capable LG sound bar, with a wireless Sub (ewwww) and Blutooth (BT) pairing capability. The LG soundbar is the NB3530A model. I wasn’t a huge fan of the wireless Subwoofer, but the price was right and my buddy gave this to me for a steal. I set this up with my secondary TV and paired my phone using BT. After giving it a listen to some of my music, to my amazement it sounded good. In fact it sounded well enough to me, that when my 5th pair of corded headphones tore at the jack, this was a fifth pair with in one year, I started looking at BT alternatives.

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Insert the Sony DR-BTN200. This was an impulse buy one afternoon when I was in Walmart looking at their Video Games section. I was hesitant, but what sold me was that on the box they had the Xperia Z1, which I am currently using, so I thought that they might pair nicely together. “DAMN YOU blatant advertising, you win this round!”

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After I got them home I took them for a spin. They are on ear headphones, vs in ear and over ear, and quite comfortable. They are light weight and very comfortable even after hours of usage. Note that you have to position them just right, and place them correctly on your ears otherwise they will hurt your ears. What that position is, well it’s really based on how big and the shape of your ears. Everyone is just a little different and you’ll need to play around with the positioning and the headband length to get it just right.

Sound quality is really good, bass reproduction as well. In the sound department Sony did a really good job balancing everything just right. The bass is sufficient, you have to remember that these are wireless headphones and adding more bass would cut the battery life significantly. So if you don’t like that perhaps those overpriced and under performing Beats by Dr. Dre are your thing. In the end the sound in these is really nice, and the mids are very distinguishable. I mention the mids because most headphones, as the mentioned brand in a previous sentence, have trouble achieving this feat.

The construction is mostly plastic, with leather ear pads. The heaphones themselves are light and fairly sturdy. They have a micro USB port for charging and in the package Sony includes a very short Micro USB cable. It takes up to 4 hours to fully charge the headset and that will give you about 40 hours of listening time, and 800 hours of stand by time. Battery life is extremely good on these, I can attest to that.

Feature packed, yup. NFC instant pairing, tap you NFC enabled device to your headphones and it will immediately pair the device and headphones. You don’t need to put in a code to pair, just tap, even if you’ve never paired the two devices before. NFC can be turned off with a flick of a switch, but since NFC is a passive technology I don’t see why you would want to unless you don’t have an NFC enabled phone, I’m thinking of iPhone users here. Also to note that these use Bluetooth version 3.0, so that is the minimum requirement for device pairing.

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Obviously these have a built in microphone, with a call button. You are able to pick up and make calls easily on the go with just a press of a button.

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Play/Pause, FFW and RWD. It’s a nifty slider button that can be pushed in. Pushing the slider in plays or pauses the track. Sliding the protruding knob up fast forwards the track and sliding down rewinds it. Right above this is a flush power button, by holding it for a few seconds the headphones chime and turn off. Above the power button is the volume rocker. All of these are easily accessible even with winter gloves on.

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At the time of this writing these can be found on Amazon for $80 CAD. This is by no means a premium headset, but for the price and sound quality good value.

So far so good, we have good construction, great sound, affordable and feature packed. Sounds like a winner to me, right? Well not so fast.

There is a slight problem with these, and this is more of a basic fundamental flaw with Bluetooth. In a controlled environment where you’re mostly static and you move around very little, these are great, and the connection/pairing between source and destination works really well. Once you start travelling outside, be it the morning commute or a walk to the corner store, this is another story. Since BT is very easily susceptible to interference as it operates on the 2.4 Ghz frequency, power lines and interference in general becomes an issue. On my daily commute when I travel under power lines, I noticed that the headset cuts out and the audio stream gets interrupted. This happens when my phone is in my front jean pocket so there are very few layers and distance between the two devices. Another issue I noticed is that when I have the phone in my left pocket and turn my head completely to the right the audio also cuts out, sans power line. These are rated for 10m so distance is not an issue.

Do the cons outweigh the pros? I don’t know… I’m really torn and conflicted between the good sound and the interference these experience. Perhaps other manufacturers tackle the issue of interference a little differently than Sony. For now I have these, in the new year I’ll be testing other options, but in the end I think I might go back to wired if the Bluetooth doesn’t hold up to my standard.

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